Monday, March 12, 2012

From Beneath You It Devours

I promised people (if you don't remember this promise, I did not promise it to you) that I would write about the first time I met Crackhead Chris

The first time I met Crackhead Chris was on Black Wednesday.  Let's go there, shall we?

There is a strong chance I've been drinking for about nine hours.  So dawn is stalking up on drunk me because it's 5am. I'm flying out of cab in front of my apartment. 

I scramble-crawl on all fours up the six stairs to the front door of my building, which is what I do when I am whammered and I think no one is looking.  I stop at the top with a growl (it sounds so ugly when I put it like that, but what am I going to do?  Pretend I don't make angry growly noises?) and my eyes catch a pair of boots in the shadowy corner. The boots grunt and it smells like cigarettes.  I can't look up because this is embarrassing, but I'm hopeful that I know this person well enough that they're thinking oh it's just Rassles being drunk again.  "Paul?  Al?"

The stranger takes an audible drag and holds it in like a gutter.  "I am not Al." Exhale.

"I am feeling a bit vulnerable," I say loudly, head down.  Do not look up at him, I think, because if he doesn't see your face then he won't ever know who you are ever, and you won't know who he is ever, and then if you ever see him again you will not be embarrassed and revert back to this exact moment when you crawled up the stairs to your apartment on all fours in front of another live human being who exists and has eyes.  "Dammit, stop being a nancy."  I look up.  "Noooooooooooooo you are not Al. Sors." The stranger extends a hand and pulls me up.   "Thanks," I say.  "Do you live here!"  It is an exclamation, not a question.

"Basement."

"Nice." I pull my keys out of my purse.  They look very confusing.

"You?"

"There."  I point to my porch.  "But you are not allowed to break in." 

"I won't. Promise."

"Eggggggggsellent."  My fingers are sticky little frogs.  Drunk frogs.  "My keys are very difficult.  Help me, neighbor.  I am stranded."

"Yep.  Lemme finish this."  He takes a long pull.  "You live here long?"

"Like seven years or something.  Can I have a sip?"

He looks at me, then his cigarette.  "What?  This?"

"Yes please."

"A sip?" 

"Just a little one," I say. We share it. "Why are you out here at 5am?"

"Holy shit, is that what time it is? I thought it was closer to six.  Cab is coming at six."

"What, are you going to the airport or something?"

"Yeah, I'm flying home for Thanksgiving.  These damn...fucking...you know?  Holi-whatever.   It's like, what? Am I just full of it?  Like money?  Sure I have, you know, a car, but I have to fly and shit.  You know?  You seeing family--today? Are you? And I have to pay rent--SHIT--remind me.  Before we go inside, remind me to get rent. Could you, ah, could you do me a favor and give it to Al for me?  I'm gone til Wednesday.  You get high?"

"Hmm? Yeah, no.  I have this condition, you know, where drugs make me fucking insane and I hate myself."

"Kay.  Okay."  He unlocks the door and we head in. 

I pause at my door. "Oh, and you have to give me your rent."  

"Yeah, that's...okay.  I'll go get it.  Be right back.  But you're coming with me, that's right.  Coming?  Downstairs?  I need to pack, I think.  Unless you want a beer?  I got all these cough drops.  And it's cash, by the way, so make sure he gets it."

"I could have a beer."

"Babe, I felt that about you."  Babe?  Uncle Jesse calls people babe.

Residents call our basement The Catacombs.  At least, I called it The Catacombs at a party one time, and at least one person picked up on it for at least one week. In my head it's The Rabbit Hole.  Sometimes.  Technically, I have a list of names for the basement, but those are my favorites.  Those two and Moria and Hades and The Seedy Underbelly of Ukrainian Village, The Ant Farm.  Morlocks live there, mole people and a Balrog, and their leader is Edgar Friendly...basically anything that alludes to being underground applies here, and we could go on for quite some time listing things, but that would get tiresome, I think, so I'll spare you, even though I am full of ideas about underground things.  

She gave me this.
Years and years ago, whenever a new resident moved in, the building owners would hammer up a particle board storage unit and hinge any old door they could find, so the whole basement is a series of oddly-sized, mismatched doors throughout dark and twisted brick passageways.  Before she moved out the artist on the third floor would hang failed commissioned watercolors of pets and koi ponds all over the walls.  She gifted me one of a gray horse, actually, because it got smudged and watery in a flood and she caught me staring at it one laundry day because I have this book that--no, that is a story for a completely different day. It's no even a story, though, just a plate-of-shrimp coincidence.  I love talking about that shit, but there are two things audiences don't give a fuck about: coincidence and dreams.  Then again, I don't write this blog for you.

It just occurred to me that the past two blog posts have contained pictures of horses.  Show more adversity, Rassles.  No, not adversity.  That word is incorrect.  You're thinking of something else that ends in --versity. 

He shoulders his way through his front door, and holds it open for me.  Furniture everywhere - not feng shui'd or really organized in any logical manner.  There is a hutch in the middle of the floor, and a couple of dressers just scattered about the place.  Some couches.  The floor is clean, but every surface of furniture, including the couches, is covered with old bags of take out and empty bottles of Gatorade.

"You get high?" he asks me again.

"No thanks."

"Are you sure?  Can I?"  He walks over to a dresser, pulls out a bowl and hits it.  He keeps trying to pass it to me and I keep refusing.  He talks.  He talks about living in California and playing the stock market and making $80,000 and losing it and living off his parents and how he's GOING to have all this money and his boss gave him a ride home from work and his car is booted, and he's a bartender who sells cough drops and Gatorade and weed, and he tells me about all of the girls that are all up on his dick right now.  And he talks about baking cookies and doing laundry and eating pussy.  And he's not used to Chicago and it's cold here, and do I want to hit this?

And I just laugh and nod, saying, "Wow" and "seriously?" and "no fucking way, dude.  No.  Fucking.  Way."  I marvel at his ego-maniacal wretchedness--that obnoxious salesman mentality where he watched too many movies about grifting and he pitches his charm with overly exaggerated tension, but he's sure he can fool people into thinking he's special.  I wish I wasn't so mesmerized by it, but I can't understand: does he really think I believe him? 

I realize my beer is gone and I should probably go to bed or something.

"Dude.  I should probably go to bed or something."

"You sure babe?  My taxi'll be here soon, can't you just wait with me?"

"Nuh-uh, I am exhausted."

"That's cool.  Let me just get you the cash."

"Cool.  Whatever."

"I just gotta--I gotta find it."  He disappears.  It feels like he's gone for ten minutes, but it's probably about thirty seconds, because I am hammered and my concept of time has never been strong.  "Babe, can you help me?" He opens a cabinet on the hutch.  "I don't know...I can't find it. Get the kitchen."

"Okay." I head over to the kitchen and start looking through empty cabinets, under the sink, in the fridge, which is full of beer and styrofoam boxes of leftovers.  There is a lone box of Ritz crackers on top of the fridge. "Where do you keep your food?"

"Have you seen my couch?"  He laughs from the other room.  "I don't have any food.  It's not in there, I'm never in there."  I shrug and join him by a dresser.  "It could be in one of these..." he starts to say, and he takes out a drawer and dumps it on the ground and kicks through the contents.  "It's rolled up," he adds.  "The money."

I open a drawer and I look at him.  "So I can just...take out the drawer?"

"Yeah, do it."

"And just dump it out?"

"Yeah."

I did it.  "What now?"

He turns towards me slowly.  "I don't know. Throw it over there."

I glance at the drawer in my hand and casually toss it over my shoulder, which is more cumbersome than it sounds since dresser drawers are quite bulky.  It crashes onto the ground behind me.

Chris stares at me. 

I raise my eyebrows.  Open another drawer, dump its contents on the ground, toss it.  Chris pulls out another one, spills it over my head and chucks the empty drawer at the wall.  I kick one at him from across the room, he blocks it with another and knocks it back towards me.  I throw it onto the couch, he throws another and smashes his coffee table, and we're just going around and destroying all of the random furniture he has laying around his apartment, looking for a roll of cash and making a terrible mess.

"Are you sure you have it in here somewhere?" I ask him.  "We're out of drawers."  

"It's gotta be," he mutters, ripping cushions off his couch and jamming his hand into its depths.  "It's just gotta."

"What about your bedroom?  The bathroom?  Loose bricks or floorboard?"

"Do you see any floorboards?"

"You could make some, now, out of all these broke-ass drawers.  Is it bad luck to break a drawer?"

"Oh my god," he says, leaping over a pile of discarded drawers and bolting into the bathroom.  I follow him.  He opens his medicine cabinet, and there on the shelves are about ten rolls of cash, rubber-banded together, just sitting in a fucking row.  He snags one and brings it over to me, counting out tens and fives until he hits rent.  He starts to hand it to me, but stops.  "Envelope," he shouts, and begins to dig through the wreckage.

He finds a half-smoked cigarette and lights it, and then picks up an AT&T phone bill, rips it open and stuffs all of the cash inside before he realizes it does not fit.  "Hold on," he says, throws the cigarette into a corner and disappears into the kitchen.

He comes out with the box of Ritz, empties the rolls of crackers into a drawer on the floor and puts the cash-stuffed AT&T envelope inside, folds it closed and hands it to me.  "Make sure you hand it to him," he says (meaning Al), completely serious.

"Of course," I answer.  "Okay, I gotta go."

"See ya, babe," he says, walking me to the door.  "Happy Thanksgiving."

"Happy Thanksgiving."

...

13 comments:

Linder said...

i always loved the basements in the buildings. they're like a secret lair where monsters and big spiders call home. ok, maybe not monsters but big spiders, yes. remember when we had to break into our storage closet? fucking spider webs everywhere.
i'm kinda bummed i didn't meet crackhead chris on my last trip out there. but that was september so maybe he wasn't there yet.

Diary of Why said...

I don't believe you.

Ok, I do. Because you can't even make that shit up, can you?

Jessica said...

Love it love it love it.

nursemyra said...

Crackhead Chris sounds like he lives up to his name.

savvy said...

i want to see what he looks like. in my mind, he is very dirty, and sexy.

jorg wobblington lopez said...

Was the word diversity?
Didn't alice go through the rabbit hole to get to wonderland. Modern day alice! Chris is the rabbit.

daisyfae said...

crackhead chris met you and gave you his rent money in cash? he's a very good judge of character...

Rassles said...

Linder: I don't think he was here then, because I would have run into him, I'm sure. He is a ridiculous person. But I think he thinks I'm mad at him right now, though I have no idea why.

DoW: You have to believe me! People with psychological problems are inexplicably drawn to me. Probably because I'm drawn to them, so I pay extra attention to them, and kind of egg them on...oh, I'm a terrible person.

JT: HOORAY!

Nurse: He sure does.

Savvy: He is definitely very dirty, and he's kind of sexy, but in a terrifying, batshit kind of way.

JORG!: YES

Daisy: I know. I held on to it for a couple days until Al showed up and was like, "Um, I believe you have an envelope for me?" and I handed him a box of Ritz crackers. "It's all there," I said. "Every last dollar."

renalfailure said...

I love you for your Edgar Friendly reference.

Chris said...

I think more adversity was the correct sentiment. Not what you meant, but correct nonetheless. And I think Crackhead Chris may have been my college roommate. Or maybe it was his dad.

The Honourable Husband said...

A beautifully recalled moment. The rent in the Ritz box, is a moment of exuisite irony, I think.

Kitty said...

Damn this is brilliant. Love every word.

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